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What’s in your<br class="br_visual" /> kitbag? Top sports photographer<br class="br_visual" /> Marc Aspland

What’s in your
kitbag? Top sports photographer
Marc Aspland

© Marc Aspland/The Times

June 2012

In a career spanning over two decades thus far award-winning sports photographer Marc Aspland has captured some of the most iconic moments in sport. His inventive, and often unconventional, approach has earned Aspland a reputation for getting shots that nobody else has even thought of. CPN writer Mark Alexander spoke to Marc Aspland to discover what equipment he uses to create his memorable images of the world’s top sports events.

For Marc Aspland, sports photography is all about capturing emotion. From the ecstasy of victory to the dejection of defeat, he has shot the lot with an uncanny knack of picking out the key moments that are packed with triumph and despair.

As Chief Sports Photographer at The Times newspaper in London, he has covered the highs and lows of football, rugby, horse racing and cricket, and delivered the goods at Wimbledon finals and the World Cup Finals. Throughout his 15 years as the paper’s leading sports photographer his images have shown Aspland’s immense creativity, which has brought a host of awards, including a Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain in 2009.

“You try to sum up an event with one picture,” says the 47-year-old Englishman. “That normally involves some kind of emotion, especially if it is a sporting event. The best way to do that is to continue shooting after the goal has been scored or after the final whistle has been blown, because that’s when the emotion comes out.”

© Marc Aspland/The Times

England rugby players Johnny Wilkinson (left) and Martin Johnson (right) hug during a lap of honour after winning the 2003 IRB Rugby World Cup Final v Australia at the Telstra Stadium, Sydney, Australia, 22 November 2003. Shot on an EOS-1D at a focal length of 135mm, the exposure was 1/400sec at f/3.2, ISO 800.

Aspland strives to capture sporting history through the reactions of those who make it, and that requires extraordinary concentration; especially when everyone around you is engrossed in the unfolding drama. “It comes with experience,” he reveals. “You close out all the periphery noise by concentrating very, very hard on what’s in your viewfinder. When you’re looking through a 400mm lens with a small depth-of-field, you are able to focus your mind on what is happening, and that skill comes from knowing you simply can’t miss the next 10 minutes.”

Life through a long lens

Unsurprisingly, Aspland often looks at life through a long lens. In fact like many sports photographers, his EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto lens has become his ‘go-to’ glass. “I have a 300mm f/2.8 and a 500mm f/4, but the 400mm is part of my 'bread-and-butter' kitbag. It’s my lens of choice,” he says. “It’s sharp, robust and reliable. As a sports photographer, when I pick it up I feel comfortable looking through it and I can focus it quickly. It comes back to experience and being in the comfort zone of knowing exactly what that lens does.”

As well as an array of long lenses, Aspland also carries some wide options, including the EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens, which he often uses at football matches to cover the stadium and goal in one low-angle shot. “It offers me a different view and different way of looking at the stadium. It gets me out of jail sometimes because it creates an unusual image. And because it’s unusual, it works.”

© Marc Aspland/The Times

QPR keeper Paddy Kenny fails to keep a shot from Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta out of the net as Carlos Tevez (third from right) celebrates, Etihad Stadium, Manchester, 13 May 2012. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark III with an EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens, the exposure was 1/2000sec at f/4.5, ISO 500.

More conventionally, he also carries an ultra-wide EF16-35mm f/2.8L II zoom, which is often employed on a remote camera due to its ability to ensure corner-to-corner sharpness while minimising distortion. He also uses this lens on a ‘pick-up body’, which he keeps on the ground next to him in case players celebrate on the touchline directly in his line-of-fire. As he says, the wide-angle view allows him to take in the bigger picture.

To complete the line-up Aspland calls on his trusty EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom, which he uses for goalmouth action and close-range shots. With a virtually circular aperture diaphragm producing softer out-of-focus areas, The Times’ shooter says this latest version of the lens produces sharper foreground objects that stand out against smooth backgrounds. “It seems to have a clarity of sharpness, if there’s such a term in photography,” he says. “It looks clean and sharp with no woolly edges. Sharpish isn’t good enough. The Mark II [version] is a sharp lens, and that’s the way I like it.”

Camera system

Aspland is a photographer who clearly knows what he likes. He is also a photographer who doesn’t make wholesale changes for the sake of it, and has remained a loyal Canon user throughout his career. “I have never made a quantum leap from one [camera] system to another,” he explains. “My photography evolves when Canon brings out a new camera or lens. It has been an evolution rather than a revolution. I have evolved with Canon cameras.”

Part of that evolution has been his progress from his “lovely” 35mm Canon F-1 film SLR through to the EOS-1D Mark III and EOS-1D Mark IV bodies, of which he has two and three respectively. He is especially pleased with the latter model, praising it for its low-light performance and wide ISO range that reaches ISO 12,800 as standard, and is expandable up to ISO 102,400.

Most recently, Aspland has been test-driving the new EOS-1D X DSLR, which features a full-frame 18 Megapixel sensor with dual DIGIC 5+ processors that help to enable the camera to shoot at up to 12 frames per second. “I like the feel of it and I am happy to be back to full-frame,” he says. “And this one is ‘rapido’. At 12 frames per second, you shouldn’t miss a thing. The 1D X has everything in one body.”

Perhaps indicative of someone who leaves nothing to chance, Aspland has his camera bodies calibrated to a particular lens, and vice versa. “I get them calibrated fairly regularly, and they are matched up to each body, so I never swap lenses between bodies,” he reveals. “In sport, I will never get another chance to get that winning moment. That instant is gone within 200th of a second. If Usain Bolt is running towards me in 9.69 seconds, I would much rather the camera and lens were calibrated and pin sharp. It’s a confidence thing.”

Aspland also carries a second bag containing peripheral lenses, like his trustworthy EF50mm f/1.4 USM, and two Canon Speedlite 580EX flashguns, which he often uses for fill light or to create studio-lighting effects when combined with a Speedlite ST-E2 infrared transmitter. His other accessories include Canon EF1.4x II and EF2x III extenders, the latter of which he describes as being: “pin-sharp and fresh out of the box.”

Until recently Aspland transported his kit in two Think Tank Airport roller bags although he has just added a Think Tank backpack. “It’s slightly smaller than the trolley bag which means you don’t have to worry about fitting it into cabin storage,” he explains. “It’s small, unobtrusive and very well designed. I could get my 400mm [lens] in it if I wanted to. It’s a very good bag.”

Aspland’s working world is built around a series of split-second decisions where all his photographic experience and technical knowledge come together to produce a single shot that encapsulates the intricacies and subtleties of sport at the highest levels. The image has to be striking, poignant and original, but it also has to be precise and beautifully composed. Invariably, he delivers.

Tilt-and-shift viewpoint

With some of the most iconic sporting images already in his bag, Aspland is also acutely aware that his readers are becoming increasingly demanding. The desire to see something different means he readily embraces opportunities to provide a new perspective. One such shot was taken at the recent Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea, at the German club’s home Allianz Arena stadium. The idea was to create a ‘Subbuteo effect’ by exploiting the narrow depth-of-field offered by Canon’s tilt-and-shift TS-E45mm f/2.8 lens. The resulting shot of Bayern’s Dutch winger Arjen Robben having a penalty saved by Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was used prominently in The Times.

© Marc Aspland/The Times

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech saves an extra time penalty from Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben during the UEFA Champions League Final, Allianz Arena, Munich, 19 May 2012. Shot on an EOS-1D Mark IV with a TS-E45mm f/2.8 tilt-and-shift lens, the exposure was 1/2000sec at f/2.8, ISO 2000.

“The abiding thought of using a tilt-and-shift lens is that it is easy to subconsciously move it a tiny amount to discover the line of focus - horizontal in this case - has shifted away from the subject by a matter of feet not inches,” he explains, “I had lots of time to frame, compose and check and recheck my line of focus before Arjen Robben actually hit the shot. Once I had tucked my elbows in and dared not move, I was then just a spectator as my mirror flashed up and down. I could only judge the outcome by the reaction of the crowd.”

He admits: “After the penalty, and after a very quick focus check, I remember letting out a huge sigh of relief; not for the outcome of the penalty, but because I knew I had a single frame that was different to all the thousands of frames that hundreds of photographers had taken at that decisive moment of the game.”

In many ways, the tilt-and-shift shot taken at the Allianz Arena epitomises how Aspland uses Canon’s lenses to create distinctive images that compel and engage. Freezing a moment in a way few others would even consider, Aspland once again demonstrated that he is a photographer with an extraordinary talent.


Marc Aspland’s equipment:

2x EOS-1D X
3x EOS-1D Mark IV
2x EOS-1D Mark III

EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
TS-E45mm f/2.8
EF50mm f/1.4 USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF500mm f/4L IS USM
EF1.4x II Extender
EF2x III Extender

2x Speedlite 580EX flashguns
Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2
2x Think Tank Airport roller bags
Think Tank backpack

Biografía: Marc Aspland

Marc Aspland

Marc Aspland is the Chief Sports Photographer at The Times (London) newspaper, where he has worked since 1988. He has covered four FIFA World Cup finals, plus every English FA Cup Final and each Wimbledon final since 1988. Aspland has also shot at a host of British Open golf championships, World Athletics events, F1 Grand Prix, Six Nations rugby, and every Rugby World Cup tournament since 1991. In addition to photographing sport (and receiving numerous awards for it), he also shoots other genres and has been awarded Royal Photographer of the Year. In 2009 Aspland became a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain.


QPR keeper Paddy Kenny struggles to keep a shot from Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta out of the net, Etihad Stadium, Manchester, 13 May 2012. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, the exposure was 1/2500sec at f/2.8, ISO 400.